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DE  RUEHMIL  #0080/01  0851002 
P 261002Z  MAR  09 




E.O.  12958:  DECL : 03/25/2019 


MILAN  00000080  001.2  OF  003 

Classified  By:  CG  Daniel  Weygandt.  Reasons  1.4  (b)  and  (d). 

1.1.  (U)  This  is  a joint  Embassy  Rome  and  Consulate  General 

Milan  cable. 


12.  (C)  In  an  environment  of  pervasive  media  coverage  of 

violent  crime  perpetrated  by  immigrants  (despite  a 
significant  statistical  decrease  in  crime  from  2007  to  2008), 
the  Northern  League  (LN)  has  made  political  hay  out  of 
initiatives  to  bolster  security,  including  its  controversial 
initiative  to  found  and  promote  volunteer  neighborhood 
security  patrols.  Reportedly  benign  "neighborhood  watch" 
style  groups,  the  patrols  are  criticized  by  many  as  a 
mechanism  to  harass  immigrants.  Patrols  of  this  kind  have  a 
long  tradition  in  Italy  and  have  been  lent  support  from 
different  political  parties  over  the  years  - not  just  the 
Northern  League.  Embassy  and  Consulate  staff  visited  a 
particularly  notorious  Turin  patrol  to  assess  the  phenomenon 
at  its  worst.  The  patrol  had  a tight  anti-immigrant 
ideological  bent,  and  a level  of  unofficial  local  police 
support,  but  seemed  to  primarily  serve  as  an  informal 
surveillance  force  for  the  police.  Draft  legislation  to 
legalize  the  patrols,  championed  by  Minister  of  Interior 
Roberto  Maroni  (LN),  has  drawn  criticism  from  the  rest  of  the 
center-right  governing  coalition,  including  from  Berlusconi 
himself,  as  well  as  the  opposition.  Still,  the  patrols  are 
politically  useful  for  the  Northern  League  and  the  party  will 
likely  continue  to  promote  them  in  some  form,  legal  or  not. 
End  summary. 

Background  - Volunteer  Patrols 

1[3 . (SBU)  The  Northern  League's  dramatic  increase  in  vote 
share  in  the  2008  national  parliamentary  election  (almost 
double  its  2006  result  but  still  only  8%  nationally)  came 
after  a campaign  waged  largely  on  the  theme  of  domestic 
security.  The  establishment  of  new  (and  highlighting  of 
pre-existing)  volunteer  security  patrols  (called  le  Ronde 
Padane  or  Patrols  of  Padania  - the  fictional  "country" 
proposed  by  the  Northern  League)  in  cities  and  towns 
throughout  Northern  Italy  were  a key  publicity  tool  in  the 
electoral  campaign.  These  grew  out  of  the  Green  Shirt 
(Camice  Verdi)  group  within  the  Northern  League  active  in  the 
mid  to  late  1990s  used  to  enforce  order  at  public 

demonstrations  (similar  to  groups  organized  by  other 
political  parties  on  both  the  left  and  right).  Currently, 
unarmed  patrols  of  volunteers,  often  organized  by  local 
Northern  League  district  offices,  circulate  through  a 
particular  neighborhood.  According  to  the  Northern  League, 
these  groups  walk  women  to  their  houses,  report  the  selling 
of  drugs  to  the  police,  and  by  their  presence  stop  petty 
crimes  such  as  purse-snatching.  Critics  note  that  most  of 
the  patrols  are  in  immigrant-heavy  neighborhoods  and  allege 
that  they  are  used  mainly  to  harass  immigrants.  Other 
patrols  exist  both  independent  of  and  sponsored  by  other 
political  parties,  but  the  Northern  League  patrols  have 
gathered  the  most  recent  attention  and  are  believed  to  be  the 
most  numerous.  Many,  if  not  the  majority,  of  the  Northern 
League  patrols  are  largely  a publicity  stunt  with  little  real 
function.  Others  work  closely  with  local  police. 

Undoubtedly,  a few  have  also  been  involved  in  physical 
confrontations . 

Neighborhood  Watch  with  Muscle?  Up  Close  with  a Turin  Patrol 

T_4 . (C)  Milan  and  Rome  Poloffs  visited  a particularly 

notorious  patrol  in  the  rough,  immigrant-heavy  San  Salvario 
neighborhood  of  Turin.  By  looking  at  the  patrol  with  one  of 
the  worst  reputations,  we  sought  to  gain  insight  into  the 
phenomenon  at  its  most  excessive.  Founded  independent  of  any 
political  party,  the  San  Salvario  patrol  has  been  active  for 
more  than  15  years  and  now  uses  the  Northern  League  district 
office  as  its  homebase.  While  a few  elderly  residents  still 
take  part  in  the  patrols,  the  majority  of  the  force  are 
young,  muscled  laborers,  some  recently  laid  off  from  factory 
jobs.  The  deputy  police  chief  of  Turin  joined  the  meeting 

MILAN  00000080  002.2  OF  003 

and  Northern  League  leaders  referred  to  him  as  an  informal 
advisor  of  the  group.  He  gave  a spirited  legal  defense  of 
the  patrols,  though  only  in  his  personal  capacity.  The 
patrol  stressed  it  had  excellent  cooperation  with  the  police 
and  noted  that  police  responded  to  their  calls  in  under  two 
minutes  on  average.  They  described  their  work  as 
accompanying  women  and  elderly  to  their  homes  in  the  evening 
and  identifying  drug  dealers  for  the  police.  Still,  some 
comments  belied  more  violent  confrontations.  One  of  the 
older  members  of  the  group  showed  off  his  numerous  scars.  He 
also  proudly  displayed  a dog  whistle,  saying  that  certain 
shopkeepers  unleash  their  dogs  to  come  to  his  aid  when  the 
dogs  are  stirred  by  the  call.  All  members  of  the  patrol,  and 
the  district  Northern  League  politicians,  professed  to  have 
received  threats  from  immigrants  to  their  safety  and  that  of 
their  families.  Still,  they  noted  that  official  police 
patrols  have  been  beefed  up  and  increased  (largely  by  adding 
Carabinieri  forces),  and  commented  that  this  was  having  a 
positive  effect.  They  also  showed  a collection  of  fliers 
handed  out  by  immigrants  in  the  neighborhood  with  photos  of 
undercover  police  explaining  in  Arabic  and  Italian  that  they 
were  law  enforcement  officers. 

Northern  League  Plans  for  More 

11_5 . (C)  Turin-based  Northern  League  European  Parliamentarian 

Mario  Borghezio,  a former  leader  of  the  Green  Shirts 
considered  an  extremist  even  by  his  colleagues  in  the 
Northern  League,  shared  his  thoughts  on  the  necessity  of 
expanding  the  patrols  throughout  Northern  Italy  to  Poloffs 
from  Rome  and  Milan.  He  described  the  security  situation  in 
Turin  as  completely  out  of  control  and  alleged  that  North 
African  immigrants  were  bringing  in  "heavy  arms"  and  hiding 
them  in  tunnels  under  the  city.  He  claimed  that  certain 
neighborhoods  had  criminal  snipers  on  the  rooftops  to  deter 
and  repel  law  enforcement.  He  also  lamented  the  infestation 
of  Turin  with  opium  dens.  (Note:  We  dismiss  these  claims  as 
posturing  by  an  exuberant  politician  well  known  for  his 

exaggeration.  Statistics  indicate  that  crime  is  actually 
declining  in  Turin.  The  total  number  of  crimes — including  all 
minor  infractions — committed  in  the  city  in  2008  was  150,000, 
down  from  170,000  in  2007.  When  these  statistics  were 
announced  at  the  end  of  2008,  Antonio  De  Vita,  provincial 
commander  of  the  Carabinieri  said  "It  is  difficult  to  find 
another  city  in  which  the  culture  of  legality  is  so  strong." 
End  note.)  Borghezio  stressed  that  this  "dire"  situation 
also  exists  in  other  parts  of  Northern  Italy.  He  maintained 
the  patrols  help  citizens  feel  safe  in  their  own 
neighborhoods.  Borghezio' s legal  consultant  laid  out  a draft 
strategy  for  regularizing  and  recruiting  for  the  local 
patrols  (draft  legislation  to  legalize  the  patrols  sets  broad 
parameters  while  local  authorities  would  draft  implementing 
guidelines).  According  to  the  legal  advisor,  the  patrols 
should  have  uniforms,  but  not  armbands  or  anything  that  would 
recall  fascist  paramilitary  groups.  While  they  could  not  be 
armed,  he  thought  providing  a dog  for  each  group  would 
provide  protection  and  intimidation  (he  noted  explicitly  that 
North  Africans  are  especially  terrified  of  dogs).  He 
stressed  that  former  police  or  military  personnel  should  head 
each  patrol  and  that  there  should  be  robust  training  for  each 
group.  (Comment:  The  views  of  Borghezio  and  his  legal 

advisor  are  quite  extreme,  but  seem  to  resonate  with  a 
notable  portion  of  Turin's  population.  During  his  visit  with 
the  poloffs,  Borghezio  was  frequently  stopped  in  the  street 
and  praised  by  Turin's  residents.  This  is  all  the  more 
surprising  given  Turin's  reputation  as  a bastion  of  the 
center  left.  Still,  the  Northern  League  vote  share  almost 
doubled  in  the  broader  Piedmont  region  from  6.5%  in  the  2006 
parliamentary  elections  to  over  12%  in  2008.  End  comment.) 

Looking  for  Governmental  Support 

Vo.  (C)  A bill  before  Parliament  that  has  the  strong  backing 
of  Minister  of  Interior  Roberto  Maroni,  a member  of  the 
Northern  League,  would  give  the  patrols  a legal  status, 
outlining  members'  rights  and  responsibilities,  and  even 
provide  some  training.  Prefect  Rodolfo  Ronconi,  Director  of 
the  MOI ' s Center  on  Immigration  and  Frontier  Police,  told 
Rome  PolOff  that  MOI  would  like  to  develop  classes  for  the 
patrols,  and  would  particularly  encourage  former  policemen 

MILAN  00000080  003.2  OF  003 

and  Carabinieri  to  take  part.  Ronconi  envisioned  their  role 
as  calling  the  police  and  serving  as  a deterrent.  The  patrols 
would  have  no  specific  authorities  nor  would  they  be  attached 
to  a political  party.  Ronconi  acknowledged  that  the 
popularity  of  the  patrols  was  in  response  to  a perception  of 
rising  insecurity,  not  an  actual  increase  in  crime,  given 
that  crime  is  declining  nationwide  and  in  all  of  Italy's 
major  cities. 

Berlusconi  Questions  Need  for  Patrols;  Opposition  Firmly 

T_7 . (C)  The  Northern  League  has  pushed  its  anti-immigrant 
agenda  too  far  for  the  rest  of  the  center-right  coalition, 
with  Prime  Minister  Berlusconi ' s People  of  Liberty  balking  at 
the  most  extreme  measures,  and  Berlusconi  himself  criticizing 
the  patrols.  Berlusconi  told  the  press  in  mid-March  that  he 
did  not  see  the  need  for  the  patrols,  adding  that  the  whole 
issue  has  given  the  opposition  an  excellent  tool.  Berlusconi 
said  that  the  Northern  League ' s proposal  will  look  to  many  as 
if  it  wants  to  replace  the  police  and  other  forces  of  order 
with  these  volunteers.  In  fact,  the  main  opposition 
Democratic  Party  (PD)  indicated  its  strong  opposition  to  the 
patrols.  PD  Member  of  Parliament  Jean-Leonard  Touadi  told 
PolOff  that  "violence  must  be  a monopoly  for  the  state."  If 
there  is  a security  problem,  Touadi  said,  the  forces  of  the 

state  should  be  strengthened.  He  added  that  PD  fears  that  if 
these  groups  are  empowered,  it  will  be  difficult  to  disband 


f.8 . (C)  The  Northern  League  may  fall  short  in  its  effort  to 
get  Parliament's  approval  for  the  patrols,  but  in  an 
environment  of  perceived  rising  insecurity,  the  patrols  will 
be  an  effective  campaign  tool  for  the  Northern  League  in 
advance  of  the  June  European  Parliament  elections.  Continued 
regular  press  stories  about  dramatic  criminal  cases  often 
involving  immigrants  will  lead  many  voters  to  conclude  that 
Italy's  cities  are  becoming  more  dangerous,  and  they  will 
appreciate  that  the  Northern  League  is  reacting.  Senior 
Northern  League  politicians,  such  as  Minister  of  Interior 
Maroni,  seem  to  be  well  aware  that  the  patrols  need  to  be 
regulated  to  curb  their  excesses  (and  not  alienate  moderate 
LN  supporters),  thus  proposals  to  provide  training  and 
include  former  police  and  military  officials  in  the  patrols. 
Our  contacts  tell  us  that  LN  is  expected  to  continue  to  grow 
across  the  north,  particularly  in  Piedmont  and  Veneto,  and 
that  the  party  will  stretch  even  further  south  than  in  the 
2008  national  elections  when  it  did  well  in  Emilia  Romagna. 
The  patrols  should  be  seen  within  this  political  context.  End 
comment .